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FRESH and Festive: International Holiday Traditions

The holidays are all about tradition. But all traditions have to start somewhere. So this year, I’m thinking of trying to launch at least one new custom with family or friends. And of course, since I work here at FRESH, it’s almost certainly going to be an edible one – like some of these international holiday traditions I’ve been hearing about.

Scandinavia – Holiday hot toddies: Throughout northern Europe,but especially in Sweden, holiday parties always seem to include some sort of mulled wine. We have stocked a non-alcoholic version, Grandpa Lundquist Glogg, which has the same traditional spices of cloves and cardamom. You can add a splash of wine or port if you like, or enjoy it as is, but no matter what, it’s best served warm, maybe with some crisp, not-too-sweet cookies like gingersnaps or butter cookies.

France – The Yule log: The French, naturally, have an abundance of wonderful Christmas foods, many of them served at a late-night feast on Christmas Eve, after church services. But since I’m no French chef, I prefer one that I can get here at FRESH ready-made, the Buche de Noel. Named after the Yule logs that burned in French hearths, this is a chocolate cake, rolled and decorated to look like a log, with holly leaves and other decorations. Our pastry chef Jennifer Kuhn makes three great kinds, but my favorite is probably the trianon, chocolate cake accented with three kinds of chocolate: white chocolate mousse, milk chocolate mousse and dark chocolate mousse.

United Kingdom – Christmas pudding: As a child, I never understood what they were talking about in old-fashioned British movies when they mentioned Christmas pudding; we sure didn’t eat chocolate or tapioca pudding cups at our house on Christmas Day. Now, I get it; what they mean in England is really a heavy, sweet, aromatic dessert, more like a cross between bread pudding and fruitcake. No matter what type you choose, it’s the sauce that makes it – a sweet, rich butter brandy sauce. The one we have, by Wilkin & Sons, is good enough to eat with a spoon, by itself. (Maybe that’s a tradition I should keep to myself. )

Mexico – Good-luck grapes: In the southern United States, we eat black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year’s Day. Mexico has a simpler and, to me, tastier custom. At the stroke of midnight, everyone eats 12 fresh grapes, to bring luck. Ideally, you eat these precisely as the bell in the local church tower chimes midnight, one for each ring of the bells. A friend who once owned a restaurant in Mexico says this was a nearly universal custom, so they served each guest 12 perfect grapes in a martini glass at the stroke of midnight, along with complimentary champagne. The champagne may not be traditional there, but I’m sure going to make it part of any new New Year’s custom I create.